Learning a proper reverence for the "holy of holies"
The Year of the Eucharist is an excellent time to draw closer to our Lord through more frequent reception of the Eucharist. Yet before we do we should learn a lesson from our spiritual ancestors, the ancient Israelites, who worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem. This lesson is relevant whether one is a pro-abortion politician in need of serious repentance, or simply a faithful Catholic striving to give a good witness and get to heaven.
Both the ancient tabernacle that Moses built, and its much more ornate successor (the Temple) which Solomon constructed, consisted of three main sections:
• an outer court or courtyard (Ex. 27:9ff.)
• an inner court known as the holy place or "holies," (Ex. 26:33); which featured the altar of incense; and
• an innermost room known as the most holy place or "holy of holies" (26:34), which was separated from the holy place by a veil (Ex. 26:33).
The most holy place was aptly named, for there God provided his most intimate presence on earth. Flanked by two angels, Yahweh was present upon his mercy seat, which was fixed atop the sacred Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:8, 17-22). As the popular movie Raiders of the Lost Ark made graphically clear, one should not approach the Ark of the Covenant—and thus God's intimate presence—lightly. In the Old Covenant, so holy was the most holy place that no one entered it except the high priest, and he only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). If the high priest attempted to draw near to the mercy seat on any other day, he would die (Lev. 16:1-2), as would any other Israelite who attempted to usurp his high priestly role (cf. Num. 3:10, 18:7).
Through his definitive Sacrifice, Jesus tore down the barrier of sin between God and man, symbolized by the rending of the Temple curtain when He completed His suffering on Calvary for
us (Mt. 27:51, cf. Jn. 19:30). As a result, we can not only draw near to God through Baptism in becoming temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and worshipping the Eucharistic Christ in the tabernacle, we can draw even nearer by actually partaking of him in the Eucharist in Holy Communion!
Such blessed access to the divine Real Presence, as St. Paul says, should give us reverential pause in coming forward to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Leta man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:27-32; cf.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1385).
In years past, many Catholics who participated in Mass refrained from receiving Communion. Today few Catholics who participate in Mass refrain from receiving the Eucharist. Pope Pius XII said the greatest sin of the 20th century was a loss of the sense of sin, and it seems as if many Catholics don't take St. Paul seriously, or not seriously enough. Whereas standard practice among Catholics used to be evaluating the sinfulness of their actions in light of objective moral norms, many today have a view of conscience in which they think they can override those norms with subjective considerations. Vatican II is often cited to support such subjectivism, but Gaudium et Spes (16) actually upholds the Church's definitive teaching on this crucial matter:
In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.
When certain politicians or other notorious public figures regularly receive Communion without physicallydying, one might condude that they are either not in a state of mortal sin or that St. Paul should not be taken too seriously after all. Either conclusion would be spiritually hazardous. Ask Adam and Eve. They didn't die a physical death, but they did die as God foretold, and it was a far more important spiritual death. The Father sent his Son to rectify the matter through his sacrificial Self-Offering. It is this same Offering that is sacramentally made present in glory at every Mass, and we partake of it in receiving the Eucharist.
To receive Communion in a state of mortal sin is to magnify our spiritually dead state by profaning Christ (cf. Heb. 10:26-31). The sin of presumption is one we definitely want to avoid, and one we need to urge and pray that our brothers and sisters in Christ avoid as well (cf. Catechism, no. 2092), especially regarding reception of the Eucharist. And even if we are in a state of grace, the reality that we are encountering almighty God in Holy Communion should shake us out of any routine that might accompany frequent participation in Mass and reception of the Blessed Sacrament. After all, if we don't act as if the Real Presence is truly real, how we can expect the unconverted to believe? And to be sure God will ask each of us one day to render an account of how we used the sacramental gifts he bestowed on us as Catholics (cf. Catechism, 1021-22). This is some sober food for thought—pun intended—as we begin the Year of the Eucharist.
Thomas J. Nash [was] Senior Information Specialist at Catholics United for the Faith. He is the author of Worthy is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass. [He currently works in the Theology Department of EWTN, Irondale Alabama.]
From Catholic Word Report, November 2004. Reprinted with permission from Ignatius Press.